Between The Covers
Olly the Oyster Cleans the Bay
A preschooler’s book reviewed by
Dotty Holcomb Doherty
Delight your preschooler with Elaine Ann Allen’s rhythmic tale of Olly the Oyster, a determined little fellow who wants to help the Chesapeake Bay. Floating through a jewel-tone Bay, Olly meets a host of critters, each with a special job to do. He politely asks each one the same two questions ones you have undoubtedly heard from your own youngster: What are you doing? Can I help?
To Olly’s dismay, the answer from these fascinating creatures is no.
“I think kids are often told they can’t do things,” says Allen, “that they can’t help because they are too young. I thought they would relate to Olly.”
While toddlers cheer for Olly, they learn about the special roles each creature plays in helping the Bay. Each conversation with a new animal flows into a familiar pattern with reassuring repetition. Along the way, Allen teaches new vocabulary and new details about life in the Bay. Words like detritus and carrion will appeal to young children’s fascination with yucky things. Each is explained and meshed with the ecology of the Bay.
“What are you cleaning?” Olly asked [Mrs. Barnacle].
“I am cleaning the water. I use my feet to grab detritus that floats by.”
“Detritus?” said Olly.
“Yes, tiny bits of plant and animal remains that float in the water. But I am very lucky, because for me detritus is yummy food.”
When Olly finally finds other oysters on a reef, he learns of his value to the Bay.
“Olly feels helpless,” says Allen, “but in the end he’s empowered. He ends up being the most important of all because he can help clean up the Bay just by breathing, and he’s been doing it all along.”
Kelli Nash’s bright colors and whimsical drawings will endear the story to young children. The illustrator invites exploration of each page, including the search for a little gold minnow, an intrepid friend who follows Olly in his travels ending up in his own predicaments.
Though Olly is a bit large to still be a traveling larva, and his wavy shell looks more like an adult oyster than a juvenile, Allen sees no problem with his appearance.
“Olly’s size was the illustrator’s interpretation,” says Allen, “and I applaud her for it. We need to relate to kids, and Olly is so loveable.”
Allen fell in love with oysters in an Environmental Studies class at Washington College.
“I learned about oysters and how they and other sea animals actually help the environment by cleaning,” she says. “I never forgot that. When I was writing stories later, I always wanted to write about an oyster, and Olly came to life.”
Now a mother of two and living in Crofton, Allen hopes to take the book to libraries and classrooms to help teach our youngest school children about these curious and wonderful Bay animals. Olly the Oyster is a lovely complement to Priscilla Cummings’s Chadwick the Crab stories, and offers a starting point for youngsters before they transition in grade school to Jennifer Keats Curtis’s oyster story book, Oschus and Shelly Save the Bay.
Available from Maryland’s own Cornell Maritime Press/Tidewater Publishers: www.cmptp.com/books_picture.htm.